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Understanding the Atomic Scale Synergies of Catalytically Active Nanoclusters on Metal Oxide Surfaces

Final Report Summary - OXIDESYNERGY (Understanding the Atomic Scale Synergies of Catalytically Active Nanoclusters on Metal Oxide Surfaces)

Heterogeneous catalysts are the workhorses of a large chemical industry and they work worldwide as vital environmental protection and in technologies for sustainable energy use. The future development of new catalysts is seen as a crucial element for securing energy resources and for better protection of the environment. The research of the ‘Oxidesynergy’ project by the team of Jeppe V. Lauritsen has been aimed at improving the fundamental understanding of catalysts which is often lacking, and in this way to provide ideas for the synthesis of new and better catalysts.

The researchers in the ERC starting grant project have pursued the goal of understanding catalytic processes by focusing on what happens on the atomic-level. Scanning Probe Microscopies (SPMs) are particularly strong techniques in this regard, since they allow researchers to image surfaces and nanoparticles on the atomic level and sometimes directly visualize the outcome of chemical reactions relevant to the catalytic process.

A particular aim of the project was to investigate the fundamental interaction between nanoparticles and the metal oxide carriers, which are used in catalyst synthesis to support the active catalyst nanoparticle. These surfaces are insulating, so in order to successfully do that, dynamic mode Atomic Force Microscopy was used for the direct imaging of nanoparticles and the metal oxide surfaces. A success was the investigation of the Cu/ZnO system – an industrially important catalyst for methanol production. The project also provided the hitherto most detailed atomic-scale view of two important oxides, gamma-Al2O3 and MgAl2O4 which are used intensively as porous support for numerous catalysts. Finally, it was possible in the project to also investigate the detailed reaction pathways important to the MoS2 hydrodesulfurization catalyst, which is used for production of ultra-low S-impurity levels in fossil fuels. This fundamental insight is actively used for researching the synthesis of improved catalysts based on control of the MoS2 nanoparticle morphology.